This is, of course, not the act of superhuman strength and intrepidity that earned him the nation’s gratitude and highest military honor, but it is a clip that’s getting him a second round of media coverage. And, I’m always glad when someone of the caliber of former Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts gets as much attention as possible. More on that in a second.
First, though, Pitts’ citation, for holding off a huge Taliban force in Afghanistan in 2008 on his own and severely wounded at the Battle of Wanat:
Early that morning, while Sergeant Pitts was providing perimeter security at Observation Post Topside, a well-organized Anti-Afghan Force consisting of over 200 members initiated a close proximity sustained and complex assault using accurate and intense rocket-propelled grenade, machine gun and small arms fire on Wanat Vehicle Patrol Base. An immediate wave of rocket-propelled grenade rounds engulfed the Observation Post wounding Sergeant Pitts and inflicting heavy casualties. Sergeant Pitts had been knocked to the ground and was bleeding heavily from shrapnel wounds to his arm and legs, but with incredible toughness and resolve, he subsequently took control of the observation post and returned fire on the enemy. As the enemy drew nearer, Sergeant Pitts threw grenades, holding them after the pin was pulled and the safety lever was released to allow a nearly immediate detonation on the hostile forces. Unable to stand on his own and near death because of the severity of his wounds and blood loss, Sergeant Pitts continued to lay suppressive fire until a two-man reinforcement team arrived. Sergeant Pitts quickly assisted them by giving up his main weapon and gathering ammunition all while continually lobbing fragmentary grenades until these were expended. At this point, Sergeant Pitts crawled to the northern position radio and described the situation to the command post as the enemy continued to try and isolate the Observation Post from the main Patrol Base. With the enemy close enough for him to hear their voices and with total disregard for his own life, Sergeant Pitts whispered in radio situation reports and conveyed information that the Command Post used to provide indirect fire support. Sergeant Pitts’ courage, steadfast commitment to the defense of his unit and ability to fight while seriously wounded prevented the enemy from overrunning the observation post and capturing fallen American soldiers, and ultimately prevented the enemy from gaining fortified positions on higher ground from which to attack Wanat Vehicle Patrol Base.
Pitts is now the ninth living veteran to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions in the post-9/11 theaters of Iraq and Afghanistan. Nine other Americans died that day as Pitts held off more than 100 fighters:
“Soldiers from Chosen Company were setting up an outpost in the rugged hills near the Pakistan border. Suddenly they came under attack by more than a hundred Taliban fighters.
“Mike Denton and the other soldiers saw much of the fire was focused on Chosen Company’s separate observation post or OP, set a hundred yards away on a hillside.
“Ryan Pitts was in that OP and the only one left alive. He tossed grenades, helped call in airstrikes, and comforted the dying. Denton and others eventually were able to come to Pitts’ aid.
“‘Him staying up there and holding that position definitely kept the day from getting a lot worse,’ Denton said.
“Still, the attack was one of the worst of the Afghan war: Nine Americans killed, 27 wounded.”
Pitts, as all of these recent recipients have been, was mindful of those lost in the battle for which he was honored. He spoke of them at the ceremony at the White House and declined to take questions until a later ceremony at the Pentagon.
“The real heroes are the nine men who made the ultimate sacrifice so the rest of us could return home,” Pitts said quietly, a reference to the nine soldiers who died defending Observation Post Topside beside him in the summer of 2008 in Wanat, Afghanistan.
“It is their names, not mine that I want people to know.”
“Spc. Sergio Abad, Cpl. Jonathan Ayers, Cpl. Jason Bogar, 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom, Sgt. Israel Garcia, Cpl. Jason Hovater, Cpl. Matthew Phillips, Cpl. Pruitt Rainey, and Cpl. Gunnar Zwilling,” he read, and in an homage to Chosen company of the 503rd parachute infantry regiment, added: “Thank you. The Chosen few.”
Pitts spoke later about the responsibility the Medal of Honor brings with it. For years, the medal was only awarded posthumously in part for fear of how the actions of living recipients might reflect on the award, but the Pentagon has since abandoned that overabundance of caution.
Pitts said that he and Army Sgt. Kyle White, who received the Medal of Honor in May, have talked several times about the responsibility that goes with the Medal of Honor.
In fact, it’s White who first let Pitts know that a call from the White House was coming to formally let him know he would receive the award.“More or less, it was rumors for a long time that it had been upgraded to a Medal of Honor,” Pitts said. “And it was when Kyle White was going through his preparations that I received a phone call from the Pentagon. Kyle texted me and said, ‘What’s your number? They’re going to be calling you soon.’ ”
Pitts said he is still getting a handle on what life will be like under the spotlight. Speaking with other recent recipients, he said, he has determined that while there is a lot of responsibility that goes with the award, he controls his own future.
“It’s kind of hard to judge right now,” he said of what causes he may champion or roles he may take on. “I’m taking it a day at a time, and I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew. For me, my family comes first, and this responsibility is very important to me. I want to have a professional life, but it is a mix of the two.”
As always, it is a pleasure and privilege to be able to honor these men while they are still with us. Thank you, Sgt. Pitts.
And, as if we didn’t already know how strong he is: